Reviewed by Johan Palme on 14th January, 2023
Christmas albums are, for the most part, one-offs, and one particular effect of this is that they rarely ever get truly tight. By tight, I mean the kind of synced-up, symbiotic coordination that can only be achieved by a band with many hundreds of rehearsal and stage hours behind them. Many genres really lean on tightness for their appeal; funk in particular can be elevated to another level by it, which is certainly why neither Cotillion Records nor James Brown reach all the way on the less-played songs of their Christmas albums.
The funk-oriented Korean five-piece Seoul Wanderer, on the other hand, is distinctly tight. They got plenty of opportunity to rehearse and perform, for a reason that was certainly more bitter than sweet: the 1975 crackdown by the military regime that gutted South Korea’s popular music scene, which gave them the chance to fill up a void and go from obscure college act to successful live band. It would not be long before they were able (with some minor personnel changes) to evolve their sound and appeal further and become the yet more popular Love & Peace.
Making a Christmas album, then, was never going to be the priority for Seoul Wanderer. But somehow, the fact that they seem to have sights set on bigger things comes out as an advantage here. By treating Christmas with complete irreverence, they’re able to turn sleepy carols into massive, organ-driven funk jams, up to 14 minutes in length. By the time they’re deep into the music, the original songs remain only as the merest hints, perhaps a rhythm here, a riff there, but none of the harmony or melody. For a lover of Christmas music, it’s a bit distressing to see your favourites pushed aside, but as a funk fan, it’s exhilarating to see just how far they can be taken away.